Its funny when you think about what it means to be a man. There is still this entrenched perception by most of society that in order for a male to be a man, he has to have his proverbial "s#it" together. A male must be strong and secure enough to weather the working world, family, and the life in general. Yet, I wonder, how many men out there actually consider themselves as fitting within this mythical mold generated by society. The theory of what it means to be a man isn't new, rather, its been around for decades and has yet to change in a way that reflects our changing world. Till it does, men will still be held under the microscope and scrutinized. Now, don't get me wrong, not everyone is wedded to this view of what it means to be a man. There are a good number of people who view a man differently, but I still feel that the majority of people, when asked what it means to be a man, will give you a definition similar to the one that I gave you. This image is perpetuated through many avenues and while it may be changing, it also plays havoc with the psyche of young and old men today. Whatever men do, there is always a little voice in the back of their heads reminding them of what it means to be a man. Myself, I am not immune to that little voice either although I try and kick it out of my head as often as possible. Part of the issue is that when you go out in public, other men have this ability to make themselves seem like they have everything together, everything figured out, and they are strong and steadfast in what they are doing. I will let you in on a little secret; most men, despite what they may say to your face or the way they may act, do not have their it all together and figured out. Rather, as with everyone, both male and female, life is a roller coaster that deals unexpected blows and often times exacts just as much of a toll on men as it does on women.
Earlier this week I had a meeting with a group of men. What I thought was going to be a planning session turned out to be something else entirely. Instead of doing any planning, we merely talked, caught up with each other, and shared what we had dealt with over the summer. It was a small group of six men, myself being the youngest, and that meeting alone helped me more with that ingrained vision of manliness than anything else I have done in a while. In short, it took that theory of what it means to be a man, ground it up, and dropped it on the floor like a pile of elephant dung. What I witness instead was what it truly means to be a man, at least what I think it means to be a man. There was not one person in the room hadn't dealt with some issues over the summer and some were having trouble dealing with them it seemed. Yet, while everyone shared the issues they were dealing with, not one pretended to have all the answers or be strong enough by himself to get through it. As a younger man witnessing this, it gave me hope for the future. As I am only thirty and probably still have a long life ahead of me, there was always a notion in my head that I would one day have it all figured out, together, and life would be easier in some respects. OK, so maybe I never thought life would get easier, but I did think that maybe in terms of figuring out who I am would be easier. To see older men (I am not talking about men in their 70's, just men older than me by at least 10 years) deal with issues, struggle with them, and sometimes not know the answers was comforting in a way. Perhaps comforting is not the right word, re-assuring might be a little more apt as I could see that I didn't have to worry about getting my "s#it" together any time soon. There is no final answer in life, nor will we ever truly figure everything out. The best we can do is come close to figuring things out till life flips and we start figuring things out again. It is a constant process it seems of evaluating, reconciling, re-evaluating, and living. Being amongst other men who are willing to share their stories and willing to listen as well is not only re-assuring, but refreshing in a way as well.
So I will offer up a new definition of what it means to be a man. A man is someone who can admit to not being perfect, not having everything together, and still live life to the best of his ability. I am not saying that men should not act strong if they want to or act like they have everything together, but along with that they should recognize within themselves that it is perfectly OK to struggle with things, to hit a wall and not be able to climb right over, to question things without knowing the answer. It seems that too many men today feel that they can go it on their own, deal with their own issues on their own terms and end out on top. This isn't always the case and I feel that most men, despite what they will admit in public, will agree with me. I will be the first to admit that I don't have everything figured out and probably never will. The comfort comes in knowing that I am not the only one and that other men who are older than me are dealing with issues in some ways similar to mine. I look out at the world sometimes and feel sorry for those who can't see life differently and get depressed when life turns hard. It almost seems that the midlife crisis that many men talk about is merely the point where a man feels he should have figure everything out and having not done so, goes berserk and tries to remedy it all by retreating to his teenage years. If all men could just see that we all struggle, we all have issues that aren't easily resolved, and that life perhaps is not meant to be figured out, perhaps the image of what it means to be a man can change. I am thankful for where I am in life, thankful for the men I listened to and shared with earlier this week, and thankful that I am aware that my life will be a series of ups and downs that I will never be able to fully control. The best I can do is ride that roller coaster, enjoy the ups, weather the downs with help, and perhaps come out at the end a better person than I was at the beginning. I don't have to be strong, I just have to be who I am, nothing more, nothing less.